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Sanford v. GMRI

November 11, 2005

JAMES SANFORD, PLAINTIFF,
v.
GMRI, INC. DBA RED LOBSTER, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: David F. Levi United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OF OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff James Sanford ("Sanford") moves for attorneys' fees and costs in the amount of $18,268.09 following the settlement of his ADA accessibility lawsuit against defendant GMRI, Inc. ("GMRI"). GMRI challenges the reasonableness of the requested fee award. For the following reasons, the court awards $8,132.67 in attorneys' fees and costs.

I.

Sanford, a quadriplegic, filed his lawsuit on August 5, 2004, claiming that he experienced numerous access barriers on his visits to GMRI's Red Lobster restaurant. On August 18, 2005, the parties filed a settlement agreement and the case was dismissed. Sanford released all of his equitable relief claims in exchange for $8,000 in monetary damages and GMRI's promise to remove or remedy the remaining architectural barriers. (Mot. at 2.) The resolution of the attorneys' fees issue was left for this motion. (Id.)

II.

The ADA provides that a court "in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party . . . a reasonable attorney's fee, including litigation expenses, and costs." 42 U.S.C. § 12205. Courts have held that a prevailing party under this statute "should ordinarily recover an attorney's fee unless special circumstances would render such an award unjust." Barrios v. Cal. Interscholastic Fed'n, 277 F.3d 1128, 1134 (9th Cir. 2002). A plaintiff who enters into a legally enforceable settlement agreement is considered a prevailing party. Id.

The calculation of an appropriate fee award involves a two-step process. Fischer v. SJB-P.D. Inc., 214 F.3d 1115, 1119 (9th Cir. 2000). "First, the court must calculate the 'lodestar figure' by taking the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation and multiplying it by a reasonable hourly rate." Id. Certain factors, such as the results obtained or the special skill and experience of counsel, should be taken into consideration when calculating the appropriate lodestar figure. Morales v. City of San Rafael, 96 F.3d 359, 364 n.9 (9th Cir. 1996). "Second, a court may adjust the lodestar upward or downward using a 'multiplier' based on factors not subsumed in the initial calculation of the lodestar." Van Gerwen v. Guarantee Mut. Life Co., 214 F.3d 1041, 1045 (9th Cir. 2000). However, the lodestar amount is generally only adjusted in "rare and exceptional cases." Id.

Sanford requests $18,268.09 in attorneys' fees and costs. (Mot. at 5.) This amount includes $11,300 in attorney and paralegal fees for 61.45 billed hours and $6,968.09 in litigation expenses and costs. (Id.) The bulk of the requested litigation expenses consists of $5,513.75 in expert's fees. (Id.) While conceding that Sanford is the prevailing party, GMRI challenges the hours requested on several grounds.*fn1 In addition, GMRI argues that Sanford's request for expert witness fees should be denied as insufficiently documented.*fn2

A. Reasonable Hours

1. Limited Success

GMRI argues that the lodestar figure should be reduced to reflect Sanford's limited success. (Opp'n at 12-13.) One of the factors courts must consider in determining the lodestar figure is the "results obtained" in the litigation, especially where a plaintiff did not succeed on some of his claims. Schwarz v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 73 F.3d 895, 901 (9th Cir. 1995). In such cases, a two-part analysis is applied. Id. First, the court determines whether the plaintiff's unsuccessful claims were related to his successful claims. Id. If they are unrelated, then the final fee amount should not include time spent on unsuccessful claims. Id. If they are related, the court must "evaluate[] the significance of the overall relief obtained by the plaintiff in relation to the hours reasonably expended on the litigation." Id.

In this case, Stanford's successful claims are unrelated to his unsuccessful ones. The alleged violations are premised on different facts and require the application of different sections of the ADA Accessibility Guidelines to determine liability. Therefore, the fee award must be reduced to match the level of success Sanford obtained.

GMRI contends that Sanford only achieved two-thirds of the relief he initially sought because Sanford conceded that: (1) he lacked standing to bring approximately one-third of the identified claims; and (2) GMRI was not responsible for fixing alleged violations in the public sidewalk. (Opp'n at 5-7.) Sanford disputes GMRI's characterization of his concession on these claims. He argues that he did not concede that he lacked standing, but anticipated that the court would reject his standing arguments in light of its recent decision in Martinez v. Longs, Civ-S-03-1843 (August 26, 2005 E.D.Cal.). This argument is not persuasive.

It is undisputed that Sanford was not successful on these claims. A claim is deemed unsuccessful "[w]here the plaintiff has failed to prevail on [it]." Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 440, 103 S.Ct. 1933 (1983). Therefore, the motivation behind Sanford's concession is not controlling. Schwarz, 73 F.3d at 902 (when reviewing whether a party has achieved limited success or not, "the reason for a claim's dismissal makes [no] difference"). ...


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